A Polish C-130 cargo plane arrived in Irbil over the weekend of Aug. 16 carrying eight tons of humanitarian aid. Six years after quitting the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq, the Poles are back in the embattled country.
The weekend delivery includes “food, tents, blankets, camp beds, sleeping bags and first aid kits,” according to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Warsaw said the assistance specifically is for “victims of religious persecution and ethnic cleansing, including Christians and Yezidis, who have found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan.”
These minority groups have already suffered atrocities at the hands of Sunni Islamic State extremists. These insurgents are fighting to establish a fundamentalist caliphate across Syria and Iraq.
Unspecified humanitarian organizations will distribute the aid, likely with the help of Kurdish forces. The Peshmerga already are rushing supplies to refugees, including thousands of Yezidis still stranded on Mount Sinjar.
The shipment comes only days after European Union foreign ministers decided openly to support the Kurds. Europe’s highest diplomats have authorized member states to send weapons and military gear, as well as humanitarian supplies.
After handing over the shipment, Polish diplomats met with Kurdish regional authorities to discuss the current crisis in northern Iraq, as well as “the prospects for the development of bilateral relations,” according to the Polish government. Warsaw may be looking for other ways to chip in against the Islamists.
Regardless, the Siły Powietrzne—the Polish air force—could continue these humanitarian flights. Polish pilots and crew have trained to airdrop supplies directly to troops and refugees.
The U.S. Air Force helped get the Poles up to speed last week. American airmen and their own C-130 cargo planes regularly visit the Eastern European country to practice various techniques.
But flying over enemy territory does entail risk. Polish armed forces spokesman Lt. Col. Arthur Golawski explained that airdrops directly to refugees currently are “too risky,” according to Stars and Stripes.
Warsaw definitely has good reasons to worry about going back into Iraq. Poland was one of the first countries to join Washington’s widely derided “coalition of the willing” in 2003.
On top of that, the country’s current prime minister Donald Tusk made pulling troops out of Iraq a major campaign issue when he was elected in 2007. In the end, Polish forces spent over five years in the Middle East and lost 23 servicemen.
Still, Poland’s military is growing and the country no doubt wants to flex its muscles as an E.U. and NATO member. Just like Washington, Warsaw will have to deal with its politically uncomfortable history in Iraq as it gets back into the thick of things.
At top — a Polish C-130 in Irbil, Iraq. Polish Ministry of Affairs photo. You can follow Joe Trevithick on Twitter at @FranticGoat. Sign up for a daily War is Boring email update here. Subscribe to WIB’s RSS feed here and follow the main page here.